In Control

Life is sometimes crazy, isn’t it? I mean, look at what we have gone through in just a few short months this year.

A pandemic killed the world economy and dramatically increased mental health cases.

Racism pushed its way into the limelight, temporarily quashing pandemic concerns while protesters took to the streets.

We expanded our vocabulary with new phrases and word pairings. “Physical distancing.” “Social distancing.” “We’re in this together.” “Stay safe.” If you are like me, hearing these words is like hearing nails grating on a chalkboard.

Despite everything, however, the earth continues to revolve around the sun 24/7.

What awaits us in the bigger picture is anyone’s guess, but one thing is sure: With all the turbulence of 2020 (the irony of hindsight is not lost in that number), we do see goodness emerging both in people and our planet.

Since working at home has become the norm for most, parents are now focusing more on their children. Family time and the family unit have once again become relevant.

And pollution has decreased. The earth is breathing freely again.

As I ponder the first half of 2020, I wanted to share what I believe are essential learnings.

  1. There is but one race on our planet. It is called the human race.
  2. Money is power, and the powerful continue to rule the world. That said, the assimilation of wealth in the hands of a few (the one percent) is not sustainable for humanity.
  3. Medical experts do not always get it right. Pandemic measures done in excess create more harm than good (for example, suicide rates are spiking, domestic violence is on the rise).
  4. Objective news reporting has given way to sensationalism. Ratings and profits are driving what should be unbiased and balanced news.
  5. Social media creates stress in excess. It can usurp all energy in a single post.
  6. Fear makes people do silly things. The media is an excellent incubator of fear.
  7. All individuals function at different emotional levels. That is what makes us unique. That is also what creates severe differences of opinion and conflict. Media helps fuel these differences.
  8. Critical thinking is not something that everyone possesses equally. There is also inequality in the distribution of money. And power. See point 2 above.
  9. Politics are a dirty business. Even good politicians must take a certain amount of mudslinging if they are to stay in the game.
  10. Businesses are opening slowly, and even the grocery store food lines are starting to go by the wayside. Things appear to be returning to normal.
  11. Personal productivity and motivation are inextricably linked. Good mental health also impacts motivation.
  12. Not all businesses will survive the economic slowdown. But not all businesses will die, either.

I’m sure you can add more to this list.

When this pandemic passes – and it will – I hope that you get a chance to reflect on how the experience has changed not only your business but you, personally.

How will your post-pandemic reality look? Will it be the same as pre-pandemic, or will the scars remain long after the “all clear” from epidemiologists and governments?

Whatever your reality, know that businesses cannot operate as usual in the post-pandemic era. If innovation and flexibility were not embedded in your business previously, they must become part of your business mantra now. Companies capable of thinking through new ideas and quickly experimenting are the ones that will survive post-pandemic.

According to the World Economic Forum, the global economic slowdown is forecast to cost the global economy at least $1 trillion in 2020 (not including the tragic human consequences). That should be motivation enough to start thinking about how to adapt your business to a new reality – regardless if a new way of doing business is required.

How do you start adapting your business? Look at the flaws in your organization first – this crisis amplified these flaws. Implementing new ways of dealing with the customer is mandatory to correct the weaknesses.

Next, identify where you need help – is it knowledge, skill, products, or something else? We can’t do everything on our own – ask and get the help you need to sustain your operation. Other areas to evaluate include your data and technology (is it working for or against you?) and your workforce. Machines and computers are great (when and where they are needed), but no business can function effectively without a competent workforce.

In the end, when things do return to normal, know that you are in control – both of your personal and business futures.

Dangerous Information

During the past couple of months, I was fortunate to have had more time to read books and research papers. I also spent more time on social media (not sure that I can call that a good thing, but it’s true!) – in particular, Facebook and LinkedIn. As I dove into social media, I was surprised to read several comments labeling information as “dangerous to the public.” Several people stressed the importance of removing videos and articles to “protect the public” because of the dangers “to the public” of “misinformation” or “false information.”

When has information – any information – become a danger to the public?

When did we become so incapable of deciphering fact from fiction? Or useful information from wrong information?

When have we ever before proclaimed knowledge to be dangerous? This call for censorship of information is not only surprising, but it is also very concerning.

The concept of information being dangerous in the hands of the public is undoubtedly true – to communists. Communist regimes rely on information censorship – the less that people know and the more targeted the government message, the more likely the people will conform to government rule. But that is communism – a trusted cousin of socialism – not democracy.

Democracy implies freedom. Freedom to elect government representatives. Freedom to choose. Freedom to access information. Freedom of media (i.e., media without government intervention). However, democracies appear to be eroding even though more than half of the world’s countries are democracies.

According to Pew Research, in Canada, for example, only 66 percent of those polled favoured free speech, and 73 percent favoured free media. These numbers are shocking, but not inexplicable.

First, the Internet appears to be playing a pivotal role in undermining democracies. And second, corporate and government agendas generally do not serve democratic goals or achieve democratic outcomes, serving only the purposes of those in power.

Neil Postman wrote in 1985 that “we no longer engage in civil public discourse. We are simply amusing ourselves to death.” We see this in social media. Look at Facebook, for example.

Facebook has 2.36 billion users, and most of those users have a low tolerance for long-form text. The younger generation, especially, will not read if the text involves more than a few paragraphs. Few among them will read a book, but they will engage extensively with short quips on Facebook.

According to James S. O’Rourke, a University of Notre Dame professor whose research specialty is reputation management, “news sites have discovered that more people will click on the video than scroll through the text of a story.” The problem with this, he says, is that “no man can understand his own argument until he has visited the position of a man who disagrees.”

Given this, it’s not surprising that the majority “now live with a thin collection of facts, distorted information, and an insufficient cognitive base from which to make a thoughtful decision. Accurate information is no longer driving out false ideas, propaganda, innuendo, or deceit.”

Research on technology conducted by Janna Anderson and Lee Rainie revealed that our use of technology will weaken democracy between now and 2030 due to the speed and scope of reality distortion, the decline of journalism, and the impact of surveillance capitalism. Even those who expressed optimism often voiced concerns.

An internet pioneer and technology developer predicted that by 2030, as much as 75 percent of the world’s population will be enslaved by artificial intelligence-based surveillance systems. These systems will be developed in China and exported around the world:  “These systems will keep every citizen under observation 24 hours a day, seven days a week, monitoring their every action.”

Let that information sink in while you consider the implications of such systems in democracies.

Dan Gillmor, co-founder of the News Co/Lab at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, and professor of practice in digital media literacy commented that “governments (and their corporate partners) are broadly using technology to create a surveillance state, and what amounts to law by unaccountable black-box algorithm, far beyond anything Orwell imagined.”

He goes on to say that “this can only happen in a society that can’t be bothered to protect liberty – or is easily led/stampeded into relinquishing it – and that is happening in more and more of the Western democracies.” He states that institutions such as journalism are failing to protect liberty.

The impact of technology on democracies is a concern, and this new call to censor “dangerous” information is doubly concerning since it directly impacts our freedom.

Who has the right to take down videos that pose a counter-argument to government views? Who has the right to remove articles that don’t voice the sentiment of the majority? Who has the right to narrate a different story to the one told?

As technology becomes progressively more robust and social media even more prevalent, will any of us notice how easily our freedoms are stripping away?

Opinions, Judgments, and Creds

It is a fact that the COVID-19 pandemic is leaving an indelible mark on our society. In addition to the tragic number of deaths, which number, by the way, is no more or less than seasonal flu, it has also impacted the world economy, mental health, domestic/other violence, poverty, and general wellbeing of people.

It has also divided people – bringing out the best and worst in all of us.

Fear has become a strong motivator during this pandemic. Fear is prevalent because of uncertainty, and daily news reports of disease numbers are also fueling that fear. Because of uncertainty, people are divided in their views on the pandemic – either they support the pandemic measures (fear taking root in a lot of cases), or they do not (questioning everything with why and how does this make sense?). While I do not doubt that the disease is real, I wonder whether the measures were the best move, especially given that the COVID-19 numbers in no way reflect the severity of the illness as initially communicated.

What’s interesting, however, is that my opinion has created a rift even within my network of friends and colleagues. While I respect the views of others, many people do not do the same when faced with information that contradicts their beliefs. This blanket rejection of opinions is not a good thing for society.

A person that I do not know wanted to know what gives me the right to state my opinion on the pandemic. Am I a virologist? An epidemiologist? An infectious disease expert? I am none of the above, but I am a concerned citizen who is seeing the data and asking what I believe to be thoughtful questions. I don’t always take information at face value. I tend to look for the meaning behind the message. And in my humble opinion, that’s what every person should be doing when faced with information, especially information that keeps changing daily.

Social media has made it excessively easy to have opinions and pass judgments. We feel anonymous and protected when we’re behind a computer screen floating our words in a virtual world. We don’t see the recipients of our words, but we feel their reactions in the words they write to us even though they may not address us by name.

Unless you’re a credentialed scientist, medical expert, or government official and, therefore, credible, it appears that you no longer have a right to an opinion about the pandemic. Readers and listeners judge your motives and question your background.

“What gives you the right to say that the measures may be wrong?”

“I can’t wait for you to end up in ER with COVID-19, and I hope they check your social media accounts to see which side of the pandemic you’re on before they give you treatment.”

“The numbers are real, and people are dying, how do you not see that?”

People are turning into monsters at their keyboards. They’re lashing out because they can’t believe for a minute that scientists, medical experts, governments, or media could be wrong. Those in positions of power would never lie to us, and they would certainly not manipulate us through fear. Would they?

This pandemic has zapped our critical thinking and replaced it with pure emotion. Logic is absent. In some respects, this is understandable. People have lost their jobs and their businesses. As well, their mental health may be in decline, and their domestic situation may be in turmoil. Yet, their expenses remain the same. It appears that those in power have ignored the human condition by focusing exclusively on strategies to stop a killer virus, regardless of costs.

The business loans and wage subsidies from governments are a small step to rectifying problems, but this isn’t the answer. The losses experienced by the lockdowns will never be recouped. There are no winners here other than the one percent.

The responses to this pandemic have been nothing short of a crapshoot. Leaders know this. Most of us do, too.

While we’re in no position (for now) to do anything but follow the rules, there are a few things we can do to help ourselves get through this.

  1. Understand and believe that the disease is real. It is not a hoax.
  2. Understand that proper hygiene is essential and having clean hands is always good – not just during a pandemic!
  3. If you’re active on social media, respect all opinions. If someone’s opinion doesn’t mesh with your beliefs, don’t be nasty and react emotionally. Consider whether there is some truth in the other view. You might learn something.
  4. Respect all people, especially the ones who don’t agree with you.
  5. Know that the measures are not a forever thing (at least, that’s what I’m hoping!).

When this is over, the data will reveal whether the current measures were correct. Until then, respect your fellow citizens, both in-person and online.

In closing, let me leave you with this quote from an anonymous source:

“You must always be willing to truly consider evidence that contradicts your beliefs, and admit the possibility that you may be wrong. Intelligence isn’t knowing everything. It’s the ability to challenge everything you know.”

 

Motivational Posters – Fad or Comfort?

Is it just me or has anyone else noticed the overwhelming motivational posters, sayings, and related paraphernalia on various social media sites? Why on earth do so many of these things exist? And even more so, why does everyone feel that they need to share something motivational with the world all the time?

I confess, I was sucked into this wormhole a while back, but I’ve been away from social media because I’ve been focusing on getting a Master’s degree and now that I’m back into my various sites, I’m gob smacked with the amount of seemingly well-intentioned messages that have flooded the Internet.

Sure, some might say that I’m not a nice person if I dislike motivational sayings, but seriously, my question is why do we NEED to see these sayings all the time? What is it that drives those to post motivational sayings? Is it because they themselves have no motivation, so by posting, they feel that they’ve done the rest of the world a favour? 

I imagine at this point, all those of you who understand the theory behind the motivational mumbo-jumbo are now eagerly writing posts to demonstrate how useful this is to man(woman)kind, but that brings me back to my question: Why do we need so much well-intentioned motivational “stuff” on social media? Are we so despondent and unaware of our own skills and abilities that we need to bombard the Internet with every silly saying under the sun?

If Ghandi were alive today, I doubt that he would be plugging up the Internet with his wise sayings. He’d be preaching it to those who are closest to him; those that care to listen.

My take on motivation is this:  You don’t need to get your motivation from the Internet – in fact, do yourself a favour and stop using the Internet as a motivational device. You won’t find motivation there (if anything, all those motivational “can do” sayings can really drag a person down!).

Build your resilience by doing superb work in whatever you set out to accomplish. And don’t forget to help your work colleague or your family with a task in which they are immersed. That’s how you build motivation – by being there and proving yourself to be useful when you are needed, time and again.

 

Learning at Work

How is your work day going? What have you learned from your job, from your peers? If you aren’t learning at work, how rewarding is your job, really? In addition to working to maintain a satisfactory standard of living, informal learning at work adds to an individual’s work satisfaction.

Various reports hold that informal learning in the workplace accounts for about 90 percent of everything that employees learn. This may be an accurate number if we consider Albert Bandura’s social learning theory positing that we learn through observing others’ behaviours and attitudes as well as the outcomes of those behaviours.  

In his book, Social Learning Theory (1977), Bandura explains that there are four conditions for modelling behaviour. These are: 

  • Attention. Different factors can increase or decrease the amount of attention paid to a particular behaviour. This includes the behaviour’s distinctiveness, its effect on your emotions (positive or negative emotions are more likely to be remembered than a behaviour that did not evoke an emotional response), prevalence and complexity of the behaviour, functional value (e.g., how important is the behaviour to your job?). An individual’s characteristics also affect attention to the behaviour (e.g., sensory capacities, arousal level, perceptual set, past reinforcement, etc.).

  • Retention. This refers to remembering what you observed. This is impacted by symbolic coding, mental images, cognitive organization, symbolic rehearsal, and motor rehearsal (i.e., practicing what we observed).

  • Reproduction. This is about “doing” what we observed. It includes attention to our physical capabilities to reproduce the behaviour as well as feedback mechanisms through our own self-observation of the behaviour. How well are we reproducing the observed behaviour?

  • Motivation. To imitate behaviour, we need to have a good reason to do so. This may include motivators such as history (e.g., perhaps past behaviours did not result in good outcomes, so a new behaviour is desired) or it may involve promised or imagined incentives.

Like many social and cultural theorists, Bandura believed that the world and a person’s behaviour cause each other – we behave based on our environment, but we also create an environment based on our behaviour. Either way, organizations should take heed of the role that informal and social learning have in the workplace and encourage appropriate learning to maximize efficiency and performance. Following are five ways to increase informal learning in the workplace (adapted from: Growth Engineering).  

  1. Mentoring. Coaching and mentoring help improve training and learning. Knowledge sharing is also a great way to retain knowledge in the workplace and prepare for succession.

  2. Sharing. Social learning flourishes when people get into the habit of sharing their knowledge. Having a center of learning available on the corporate intranet or some other internal forum will go a long way to help employees collaborate and boost their learning.

  3. Experts. Provide expert resources for employees – knowing who to turn to when you have a question will go a long way to helping employees learn from each other.

  4. Rewards. Some companies reward an employee’s hard work with accolades such as “Employee of the Month” or “Top Contributor,” etc. This makes learning more fun. Another way to make learning fun is through gamification – who doesn’t love a good game of Scrabble for Business?

  5. Mandatory Learning. Ensuring that employees complete one level of learning before they can advance to the next level is a good way to ensure that they are reading the corporate handbook (so to speak!). This can be done readily through an online learning platform. This ensures that collaboration and social learning become part of the employees’ learning journey.

Would you like to know how you can learn better from work? Check out the Learning Innovations Laboratory report about the “three stances that make a difference” at work.

The Dark Side of Electronic Communication

Individuals and organizations alike still rely on electronic mail (e-mail) as a primary communication tool to conduct business. A 2003 study, still relevant by today’s standards, by associate professors Raymond Friedman and Steven Currall, caution about using e-mail to resolve conflicts. While they do not specifically mention it, using other media for the same purpose should also give one pause. 

Based on their review of sociological literature, the authors suggest that escalation of disputes is more likely during electronic communication than during face-to-face conversation. They also recommend a number of ways to ameliorate the risk of escalation, concluding with a call for additional empirical research into e-mail’s impact on conflict management.

The authors define the following properties as present in face-to-face communication:

  • Co-presence (parties are in the same surroundings)
  • Visibility (parties see one another)
  • Audibility (parties hear speech timing and intonation)
  • Cotemporality (parties receive utterances as they are produced)
  • Simultaneity (parties send and receive messages at once)
  • Sequentiality (parties take turns)

It is easy to see how each property enables communicators to “ground” the interaction. In other words, they are able to achieve a shared understanding about the encounter and a shared sense of participation. They also allow participants to time and adjust their actions and reactions so as to move toward agreement. Grounding, timing, and adjusting are all critically important tools in successful conflict resolution.

In looking at e-mail communication, the authors state that e-mail exchanges take place in an antisocial context (participants are isolated at their computers), allow new tactics (such as lengthy messages or communications that bundle multiple arguments together) and are characterized by reviewability and revisability (communicators are able to re-read received messages and extensively shape their responses).

These properties, as well as the lack of those that are unique to face-to-face conversation, engender the following effects (which Friedman and Currall claim increase the risk of escalation during conflict processing):

  • Low feedback. Electronic communication generates little feedback such as clues about how a recipient is reacting to one’s message. As a result, participants cannot fluidly adjust their comments to repair missteps or clarify misunderstandings. Inadvertent insults and loss of face become more likely, and misunderstandings accumulate. Also, recipients can often perceive communication tactics as “heavier” than intended. This causes social bonds to weaken and the involved parties find it more difficult to resolve conflicts.
  • Reduced social cues. E-mail communication lacks the emotional expression found in face-to-face conversations; therefore, the parties rely more on the messages’ cognitive content to manage conflict. In addition, although e-mail participants often include greetings and other forms of “social lubrication” in their messages, the power of such rituals to remind people of social norms and rules declines significantly the longer the delay between message exchanges. When long delays exist, message recipients may respond in socially inappropriate ways – aggressively or not empathetically.
  • Length of messages. When a sender bundles multiple arguments in a lengthy e-mail message, the recipient may forget to respond to one or more arguments in the reply. Moreover, in crafting a response, the recipient may focus only on those arguments that he or she found most upsetting. When a sender believes that the recipient has ignored parts of the message, the sender may suspect a violation of interaction norms. Misunderstandings can accumulate, and inadvertent insults can become more likely.
  • Excess attention. Thanks to the properties of reviewability and revisability, online communicators can ruminate at length about received messages. Research suggests that rumination increases both angry mood and perceptions of a problem’s magnitude. Reviewability and revisability also permit elaborate editing of messages, which increases composers’ commitment to their arguments. The parties become less willing to compromise, begin depersonalizing one another and view the conflict as unresolvable.

The conclusions? Use face-to-face conversations or phone calls to discuss disputes. If e-mail cannot be avoided, then consider that the perceived insult may have been unintentional. Finally, the authors suggest that e-mail users can and should manage risk to resolve conflicts more productively.

Before You Buy That New iGadget

Recent promos for the latest new technology gave me pause. And it should give you pause, too.

There is no doubt that we are a society of “must-have-the-latest-new-toy,” but have you thought about what happens to your old technology – those smartphones, laptops, printers, and other energy-emitting devices that you no longer wish to use? What is your old technology doing to Mother Earth?

You might say that you are responsible and recycle your old electronics. Good for you. And I bet many recycling depots do a decent job of ensuring safe recycling practices. But some old electronics may fall through the cracks.

In August 2009, CBS revealed some startling evidence (as only 60 Minutes can!) about old electronics being shipped illegally to countries like China where the dismantling of the equipment is hurting (understatement) the people and the environment. You can see the show here: http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/the-wasteland-50076351/.

If the 60 Minutes investigation does not give you pause, perhaps the following might.  

A report by Liam Young and Kate Davies of the Unknown Fields Division traces the supply chain of the global economy in reverse. Their research brings the point home (literally).

After the 60 Minutes expose aired, the Chinese government tried to clean-up Guiyu’s booming e-waste operation. However, Young and Davies state “that what really happened is that it went underground – or more specifically, inside.”

“Actually what happened is that the industry has moved from the street and into peoples’ houses,” he says. “So now this new form of mining is now a domestic industry, where a circuit board bubbles away to refine the copper next to a pot of noodles in someone’s kitchen.”

“It’s too easy for people to sit in an air conditioned flat in New York or London, tweeting on laptops and talking on their phones about the horrors of the rare earth mining industry or cheap production and exploitative labor in China,” Young says.

The reality is much worse.

Young and Davies collected some of the toxic mud created from recycled technology and created “lovely” toxic sludge vases. These vases are part of an exhibit at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London which opened on April 22, 2015.

Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan summarizes the journey of the vases in a report titled “These Vases are Actually Made From Liquefied Smartphone ByProducts.” Here’s an excerpt:

“The mud that makes up each of these vessels was carefully drawn from a toxic lake in Inner Mongolia, where the sludge from the world’s most prolific Rare Earth Element refineries ends up. It was brought to London, where a ceramicist in a hazmat suit worked to turn it into actual pottery, representing the waste created by a smartphone, a featherweight laptop, and a car battery. Starting today at the Victoria & Albert Museum’s exhibit What Is Luxury?, you’ll be able to see each vase in person—a stark visualization of exactly what’s involved in building your electronics.”

After reading Campbell-Dollaghan’s report, I learned that our smartphones each have about 380 grams of toxic and radioactive waste. Think about that the next time you go to answer or make a call on your smartphone.

The questions before us are simple: 

  1. How much newer-better-luxury stuff do we really need?
  2. At what point will manufacturers take responsibility for killing the planet?
  3. What can be done now to reverse the damage?

The answers to the questions are probably not as simple.

Improving Productivity by Working from Home

Does working from home improve productivity? A Stanford University study of a Chinese travel agency concluded that it does. 

The study found that employees working from home: 

  • Were 13% more productive (9% worked more hours, taking less breaks and fewer sick days and 4% had higher performance rates per minute – hypothesized to be due to quieter working conditions).
  • Had 50% less attrition.
  • Reported higher feelings of work satisfaction.

Total factor productivity increased between 20 and 30 percent (the increase was due from two sources – efficiency in calls per minute and capital input). In addition, the company estimated annual savings of $1,900 per employee.

The learning from the experiment included the following:

  1. Working from home improves performance.
  2. Allowing employees a choice generated a far greater effect than requiring employees to work from home.
  3. A large sample of treatment and control employees allowed the firm to evaluate the impact on different types of employees.
  4. Management was surprised by the dramatic drop in attrition.

In addition to benefits to employees and employers for working from home, society as a whole sees benefits. These benefits include people choosing where they wish to live (instead of close to the employer’s office), less pollution and traffic congestion from work commutes, and an overall better family and community life because of the flexible hours.

However, improving productivity and saving money by having employees work from home does not work (pardon the pun) for everyone. People need to be able to recognize in themselves whether they have the discipline to perform as well as, or better than, working in an office environment.

Also, some individuals need the socializing that comes with working in an office – these individuals cannot thrive in isolation. For others, a careful balance must be struck.

As John James Jacoby (proclaimed lover of naps) writes: “For me, home was always where cool stuff happened, and the office was where I spent time waiting to go home to make more cool stuff happen.”  

Self-control and pride in one’s work is mandatory for working from home. An ability to complete tasks and communicate effectively with others is also a requirement. Trust is also a big element when working from home – employers need to trust that their employees are doing their best, but they also need to respect schedules and expectations.

I work from home most of the time and I cannot be happier about this arrangement. In fact, my most rewarding client work is done at home. This is likely because I am disciplined and have the necessary self-control about my work. It also helps that I love what I do.

Open Office – Productivity Enabler or Slasher?

Today, about 70 percent of employees in the U.S. work in open offices.  Despite this high number, you may be surprised to learn that the open office concept is not the be-all and end-all for everyone. Success depends on personal work styles and personalities and how well workers can adapt to the high level of distraction served up by open offices.  

According to the International Management Facility Association, workers in open plan offices get sick more often (62 percent more sick days on average), they don’t like the noise (sound and temperature are the most important factors in the environment), older workers really don’t like the noise (those over 45 are more sensitive to noise and temperature), and open offices deplete productivity.

The biggest impact on productivity tends to be distractions such as overhearing conversations, ringing phones and noisy machines Tonya Smith-Jackson and Katherine Klein in the Journal of Environmental Psychology identified reduced motivation, decreased job satisfaction and lower perceived privacy as factors negatively affecting productivity.

Another finding in the Journal of Environment and Behaviour confirmed that workers in open offices are more stressed and less satisfied with their work environment. After returning to survey the same workers six months later, researchers learned that not only were workers still unhappy with their new office, but their team relations broke down even further.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the noise in open offices decreases cognitive performance. Psychologist Nick Perham states that office commotion impairs workers’ ability to recall information and even to do basic arithmetic. Listening to music to block out office intrusion does not help – even that impairs mental acuity.

While open offices seem to be better suited to younger workers, a study in 2012 by Heidi Rasila and Peggie Rothe found that certain types of noise such as conversations and laughter are equally distracting to Generation Y workers as they are to their older counterparts. However, younger workers enjoyed the camaraderie of open spaces, valuing their time spent socializing with coworkers. And while younger workers acknowledge the “problems” of open offices, they see them as fair trade-offs for a greater good.

But the trade-off is not as great as it might seem. Regardless of age, when we are exposed to too many inputs at once – a computer screen, conversation, music, telephones, email alerts – our senses become overloaded and more work is required of us to achieve a desired result. Those unable to screen out distractions in the office are frantic multitaskers.

According to Maria Konnikova (Open Office Trap), as a workplace norm, the multitasking millennial seems to be more open to distraction. However, their wholehearted embrace of open offices may be ingraining a cycle of underperformance in their generation:  They enjoy, build, and proselytize for open offices, but may also suffer the most from them in the long run.

It seems that the tried and true traditional offices that include cubicles are still the best despite their drawbacks. Research leads us to believe that employees are far more productive (and happier) in these controlled and focus-driven environments than in the open office.

Bridging the Gap between Training and Proficiency

Now that your staff completed training in your organization’s newest program, everyone knows what to do and how to do it. This is a reasonable expectation, but the reality is that training does not mean that learning has occurred. Even less so, there is no guarantee of proficiency.

In their book, Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath present six ways to make ideas “sticker.” These include:

  •  Simplicity
  • Unexpectedness
  • Concreteness
  • Credibility
  • Emotions
  • Stories

These guidelines for making ideas stick are applicable in a variety of situations – from selling to teaching! And while all of these methods can make learning stick, they can also go a long way to enabling proficiency.

 Research shows that retention of learning varies by modality. For instance:

  • 10 percent retention through reading
  • 20 percent retention through hearing
  • 30 percent retention through seeing
  • 50 percent retention through hearing and seeing
  • 70 percent retention through repeating the material (saying)
  • 90 percent retention through saying and doing

What the above demonstrates is that the more involved the learner is in the training, the higher the retention and the greater likelihood of higher proficiency.

Make training simple. This means that training should be logical and not complicated. Short bursts of training are more effective than are lengthy modules.

Introduce the unexpected into training. If the training is about records management, stage a short play that introduces real life work scenarios about handling information. Sing a song about libraries or show a video about e-mail. Get creative and introduce the unexpected!

Make training concrete. That is, ensure that training demonstrates specific behaviours and steps, allowing learners to practice the behaviours and steps both during and after training.

Both the trainer and training needs to be credible. Learners need to trust the source if they are to take the material seriously. The trainer’s body language affects the learners’ perception of credibility by 55 percent, voice accounts for another 38 percent, but what the trainer says only accounts for seven percent. Pay attention to your body language!

Make training emotional. The best way to do this is let learners know “what’s in it for them” (i.e., WIIFM – what’s in it for me). Perhaps learning the material may mean an increase in pay or a promotion at work. Nothing is more powerful than an emotional connection between the learner and the training to ensure that learning sticks.

Tell stories. Stories provide examples. People can relate to stories and are more apt to remember the story rather than the training material itself.

Using all of the above techniques can help training stick, but pairing learners with coaches or mentors helps reinforce learning, so that learners become proficient as they practice their learning.

And don’t forget to audit learning. At intervals of one month, three months, and six months post-training, follow-up with learners to discuss if they require further information. It is through follow-up that training reinforcement occurs and any issues that may arise are quickly resolved.